The Perfect Balance of Street and Track in a Corvette

Some of you might know how the “Grand Sport” name for the Chevrolet Corvette. If you don’t, let me explain. In 1963, Zora Arkus-Duntov was hoping to build 125 lightweight, high-power homologation-special Corvette Sting Rays so Chevrolet could qualify for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. GM smashed that plan to smithereens after Chevrolet had built just five of the so-called Corvette Grand Sports. All five were quickly spirited under the table off to legendary racers with last names like Penske, Foyt, and Hall. All five cars were raced without any factory support.

Since then, Chevrolet has revived the Grand Sport name twice – once in 1996 and once in 2010. Both of those times, the badge meant special editions with beautiful bodywork, but no massive performance gain, unlike the 1963 Grand Sports. The 1996 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and 2010 Z06 would still outperform the Grand Sports. Of course, the 2010 Corvette ZR1 was still the most serious Corvette of that generation of Corvette.

Of course, Chevrolet’s engineers went hog-wild with the C7 Stingray Z06. It’s a combination of a massively powerful engine that has been described as one of the best-sounding engines ever (I agree), absolutely brilliant suspension, and enough computing power to sequence the human genome. Yet, it’s so approachable for the average driver that it’s truly mind-boggling. It also costs around $80,000. It’s a true giant-killer, especially with a professional driver. Even without a professional driver, this is not a car you want to tangle with.

The Z06 is also quite unlike the Corvette Racing C7.R that competes in one of the highest echelons of motorsports – endurance racing. The C7.R’s that quite simply walked away with the win at this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona actually make less power than the Z06 you can get on your dealership’s showroom floor. There’s no supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 shrieking under the hood of the race-winning C7.R – those drivers have to make do with a 5.5-liter V8 sucking air through a restricted air intake the diameter of a garden hose. Because power is handicapped by a rule book (which didn’t stop NASCAR legend Smokey Yunick), the Corvette Racing team wins races with unworldly grip and highly aggressive aerodynamics. Let’s put it this way – their strategy works well.

It’s interesting that the new Grand Sport, which is the mid-range model, lives up to the “street-legal race car” cliche. It’s got some of the best street tires in the world, aggressive aerodynamics enhancements, and stock engine. Oh, and it comes with a warranty, something most race cars can’t brag about.

Let’s start off with the tires – Michelin Pilot Super Sports are standard tires, or even stickier Pilot Sport Cup 2s with the Z07 high-performance option package, which are the same tires you can get on the Z06. They’re much wider than the standard Stingray tires (40 mm wider up front, 50 mm wider out back), which means that Chevy had to put the Z06’s massive, bulging fenders to clear the massive tires.

GM’s truly brilliant Magnetic Ride Control is standard equipment, as is the highly advanced electronic limited-slip differential, as are the Z06-derived chassis sports custom stabilizer bars and springs. You can pair the brilliant 460-horsepower, 465 lb-ft, dry-sump LT1 V8 with a fantastic 7-speed manual transmission or a pretty darn good 8-speed automatic, both of which come with the Stingray and Z06. What does the Z07 package add? Carbon ceramic brakes, and even more aggressive aero, mostly.

Now, let’s move onto the beautiful bodywork. It’s mostly borrowed from the Z06 part bin. However, it’s got Grand Sport-specific front fender vent inserts. What about from the Z06? It’s got the Z06’s wider track (how far apart the wheels are from each other), an open-mouth front grille, and big differential cooling vents on the rear fenders. The Grand Sport has a Z06-spec front splitter, front splitters, and wickerbill rear spoiler, all of which are finished in carbon fiber in the Z07 trim. Chevy claims that they all create downforce, but the Z06’s clear plastic Gurney flip isn’t available on the Grand Sport. Oh, and then there’s a Heritage package, which adds the traditional front fender hash marks, which are now connected in a horseshoe shape. I somehow forgot to mention that Chevy has more than the entire rainbow’s worth of body, hash, and full-length racing stripe combinations.

Inside the Grand Sport, there is badging depicting the 1963 Grand Sport #002 (the only roadster out of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s original five Grand Sports) on the floor mats, headrests, and on a dash plaque directly ahead of the shifter. The brushed aluminum halo on the right of the center stack has a subtle racing stripe, which is created by rotating the brushing pattern on the metal 90 degrees during the polishing process.

Chevy says that the Grand Sport will hurtle it’s way to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, and blast through the quarter mile in 11.8 seconds. I’m going to say that’s probably because the Grand Sport has much better tires than the Stingray does.

The Grand Sport weighs in at 3,252 pounds, which is 98 pounds lighter than the Z06. Because there’s no gigantic supercharger, the hood is lower, affording much greater visibility of the road.

Even with the windows up, the A/C on full blast, and the engine contentedly burbling along at 1500 rpm in one of the Grand Sport’s many overdrive gears, you’ll still easily pull over 1 g without the car breaking a sweat. You won’t either.

We’ll move onto the price now. The Grand Sport coupe starts at just a freckle under $66,500, which is a $5,000 premium over the Stingray. It’s also about $14,000 cheaper than a Z06. If you want to drop the top on any Corvette, plan to shell out an additional $4,000. Do you want the Z07 package? Give Chevy $8,000. Even if you buy the Grand Sport convertible with the Z07 package, that still gives you about $2000 to get some accessories, or haggling wiggle room.

The Z06 is a great car – don’t get me wrong. However, the Grand Sport was designed with a different purpose in mind. The Z06 is powerful in a way that you’ll rarely be able to enjoy. 650 horsepower is more than you’ll ever be able to use on the street – with one quick stab of the gas pedal, you’ll be well on your way to jail. On the track, it goads you into probing it’s incredibly high limits, all the while serving a main course of absolutely brilliant chassis tuning and suspension, with a side of driver aides for that moment when you push it too far. To do that on public roads, you’d better have a top-notch lawyer, a very good health insurance plan, and a glovebox filled with bribe money. OK, you can forget about the last part. Cops really don’t like it if you try and give them $20,000 in $1 bills…

The Grand Sport does something truly incredible. Chevrolet designed this car to have the same absurd limits as the Z06, but never leave you feeling like it’s a waste of horsepower because you can never floor it. While grip, balance, and power all work together, which is what makes low-power sports cars so fun, they become magical when you turn the dial up to 11.

What would happen if you put the optional Z06-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires to your Corvette Stingray Z51? It’s obvious that sticky tires are key to making a good car handle well. However, good tires won’t work as well unless the chassis and suspension are dialed into those tires. Even if you somehow figured out how to make those tires fit under a stock Stingray Z51’s seductive bodywork (remember that the Z06 is three inches wider in the back), you still would have a lot of work to do. The ABS system wouldn’t be properly calibrated. Stability control intervention would be much more sudden, and the brakes would slow you down almost instantly because the Z51’s brake calibration is designed for less sticky tires. That means it would apply more brake than necessary. The electronic limited-slip differential wouldn’t perform as well, either. The suspension would also be woefully undersized relative to the massive amounts of grip that the tires generate, which would make the car feel sloppy.

What does this all boil down to? It’s more than a sloppy badge job, far more than a Corvette with some random Z06 parts, and more than a throwback to a legend. It’s the real deal, folks. This car isn’t tuned to within an inch of it’s life (and yours). This is a race car for the…wait, I don’t endorse illegal activities here.

More of the Best Japanese Sports Cars Ever!

This is a follow-up to one of my most popular posts of all time. Japan has given us some of the most iconic, endearing, and usable sports cars ever to drive.

  • 1959 Datsun Sports/Fairlady: It was known as the Datsun Fairlady in Japan, but over here, it was known as the Datsun Sports. It came with a 1,500 cc engine, a 1,600 cc engine, or a larger 2,000 cc engine. It started as a cheaper competitor to the MG Midget, but it had a fiberglass body instead of the aluminum used in the MG. It developed into one of the most successful road-racing cars in the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America).

    This is a 1962 model, but it is essentially the same as the 1959 model.
    This is a 1962 model, but it is essentially the same as the 1959 model.
  • 1963 Honda S500: This was Honda’s first car. While it’s successor, the S600 enjoyed numerous class wins in the SCCA and other road racing bodies, the S500 shouldn’t be forgotten. The S500 weighed a mere 1,500 pounds, and it was powered by a tiny 500 cc dual-overhead-cam engine with a 9,500 RPM redline. It had one motorcycle influence – chain-driven wheels. It was a fast, sprightly little car that could hang with the big boys.1963 Honda S500
  • 1965 Toyota Sports 800: This was Toyota’s first sports car, and while it wasn’t a hit in the US, it’s had a devout following since day one. It has 44 horsepower, and a removable targa top. Oh, and it’s pretty cute.

    The only thing that isn't stock about this beautiful 1965 Toyota Sports 800 are the wheels, but I think it adds a nice touch.
    The only thing that isn’t stock about this beautiful 1965 Toyota Sports 800 are the wheels, but I think it adds a nice touch.
  • 1967 Toyota 2000GT: Riding off of the success of the Sports 800 in Japan, Toyota decided to build a competitor to the Jaguar E-Type. The result is the absolutely stunning Toyota 2000GT. Toyota teamed up with Yamaha to develop the engine and transmission, and boy did Yamaha deliver! It’s an achingly gorgeous car that breezes well over $1 million at auction.1967 Toyota 2000GT; top car design rating and specifications
  • 1968 Datsun Bluebird/1300-1600/510: Datsun essentially reverse-engineered the legendary BMW 1600, and this wonderful rally/drift machine was born. It was known as the Bluebird in Europe, the 1300-1600 in Asia, and the 510 here in America. It still holds 2wd rally records. It’s one of the most legendary sports coupes ever made, and you can buy one for a relatively low price.

    This is a picture from one of the original advertisements that Datsun put out in 1968. The No. 85 car is one of the legendary rally cars.
    This is a picture from one of the original advertisements that Datsun put out in 1968. The No. 85 car is one of the legendary rally cars.
  • 1970 Datsun 240Z: This is certainly one of the most beautiful sports cars ever made, let alone one of the most beautiful cars ever made. My grandparents and dad used to own one, but guess who decided to sell it so I couldn’t enjoy it? It had a single-overhead-cam inline six cylinder engine, a five speed manual, and fully independent suspension. European sports cars never knew what passed them.1970 Datsun 240z
  • 1971 Mazda RX-2 and RX-3: These cars were the precursors to the legendary RX-7. The RX-2 set so many records and poles in IMSA that rotary engines got banned. The RX-3 went 160 mph at Bonneville. 
    This is a 1971 Mazda RX-2. It's not exactly pretty, but it got the job done.
    This is a 1971 Mazda RX-2. It’s not exactly pretty, but it got the job done.

    This is the slightly larger 1971 Mazda RX-3. It's equally homely, but it was much faster than the RX-2.
    This is the slightly larger 1971 Mazda RX-3. It’s equally homely, but it was much faster than the RX-2.
  • 1979 Toyota Celica: The original Toyota Celica was for all essential purposes, a Datsun 240Z with icing on the cake. While it didn’t have a six-cylinder engine, it had a rear seat, and therefore, more utility. It was originally somewhat homely, but then the legendary AE86 generation came around, and it had totally ’80s styling, man.

    Most teenage boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s really wanted to own a 1978 Celica notchback, like this. You can decide if they really wanted it that badly.
    Most teenage boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s really wanted to own a 1978 Celica notchback, like this. You can decide if they really wanted it that badly.
  • 1982 Datsun Maxima: This is the precursor to the Nissan Maxima. It borrowed powertrain components from the 240Z, and was supposed to be a very fun car to drive.1982 Datsun Maxima
  • 1985 Toyota MR2: You can call it Mister Two. It was inspired by the then-fast Ferrari Testarossa. It was a break from the monotonous, boring cars Toyota had been cranking out…oh wait, they still are!

    You can call it Mister 2.
    You can call it Mister 2.
  • 1986 Honda Civic, CRX, and Prelude Si: The year 1986 was a good year for car people. Honda released the Si model for the Civic, CRX, and Prelude. It upped speed and handling prowess. These cars are still fast enough to keep up with a modern Porsche Cayman on a winding road or a race track. Plus, you can get them for very little money, as Honda made a lot of them!
    This is the 1986 Civic Si, which was basically a four-seat CRX. It had more utility, but was slightly slower.
    This is the 1986 Civic Si, which was basically a four-seat CRX. It had more utility, but was slightly slower.
    The 1986 Prelude Si was a sporty, yet very refined car. It had tuned port fuel injection, which was rare for the time. Yet, it was still affordable to the everyman.
    The 1986 Prelude Si was a sporty, yet very refined car. It had tuned port fuel injection, which was rare for the time. Yet, it was still affordable to the everyman.

    This is the infamous 1986 Honda CRX Si. It's still fast enough to keep up with a new Miata.
    This is the infamous 1986 Honda CRX Si. It’s still fast enough to keep up with a new Miata.
  • 1988 Honda Prelude: Honda took the already-impressive Prelude Si, made all of it’s equipment standard, and then added four-wheel steering to it. It was a speedy little car.1988 Honda Prelude
  • 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata: It’s a sprightly Lotus-inspired roadster that is now the world’s favorite roadster out there. It took all of the fun charms that British and Italian roadsters had, and added bulletproof reliability to the mix. It’s also the world’s most popular race car. Need I say more? I really want one (hint, hint Zayzee)…1990 Mazda Miata
  • 1991 Acura NSX: Acura’s NSX is still one of the most amazing supercars ever. It’s so reliable that you can daily drive it without having to worry about overheating it. It has a sleek aluminum body that looks fabulous in red (just to rub it in to Ferrari), and it’s 3.0-liter V6 revs to 8,000 RPM. It’s V6 has the original VTEC system, which is just a variable timing and lift valvetrain. VTEC comes from motorcycles, but it first appeared in 1989 with the Acura Integra GS-R for Japan only.

    It's 24 years old, yet it's still incredibly fast, and has styling that is superb.
    It’s 24 years old, yet it’s still incredibly fast, and has styling that is superb.
  • 1994 Toyota Supra: The Supra finally matured in it’s fourth generation. It’s still one of the most legendary sports cars around. It’s twin-turbocharged 2JZ-GTE engine further catapulted the Supra into fame. Most have been tuned to within an inch of their life, so it’s rare to see a stock fourth-generation Supra.1994 Toyota Supra
  • 1992 Mazda RX-7: The third, and final generation of the legendary Mazda RX-7 arrived in 1992 with sequential turbocharging, beautiful bodywork, and vastly improved handling. It’s been successful on the racing circuit, and is still winning awards in Formula Drift.1992 Mazda RX-7
  • 2000 Honda S2000: How does Honda celebrate their 50th birthday? By building an incredible successor to the S600, that’s how! The S2000 was powered by a 9,000 RPM 2.0-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine that screams to the heavens. It’s supposed to be one of the most visceral and engaging cars ever to come out of a factory’s doors.2000 Honda S2000
  • 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII: It’s a cross between a road-racing machine and a rally car. It had massive Brembo brakes, Bilstein shocks with lots of travel that somehow allowed for perfect car control, and a massive, provocative carbon-fiber rear wing. It’s instantly recognizable.2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
  • 2004 Mazda RX-8: The Mazda RX-8 was the last dying gasp for rotary engines. It had doors like an extended cab pickup truck, and a backseat. It drank fuel like a sailor, and ate oil like a long-haul trucker. If you started driving it before the engine was warm, you’d flood the engine. If you turned it off without letting it idle for a few minutes, you’d cook the rotors. Yet, people still love them.Mazda RX-8, 2004 World Wide Launch Monterey, CA  12/29/2002
  • 2009 Nissan GT-R: Nissan took the GT-R to uncharted heights in terms of performance. It has a twin-turbo V6, AWD, and a video-game dashboard just for kicks. It’s performance is truly astonishing. It can grip like nothing else out there, and it’s acceleration is only rivaled by hypercars like the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder. And a garden-variety brand-new one costs about $100,000.

    It's Godzilla! The nickname came around after an automotive journalist looked at all of the races that the original GT-R had won, and proclaimed it "Godzilla." It's a fitting nickname.
    It’s Godzilla! The nickname came around after an automotive journalist looked at all of the races that the original GT-R had won, and proclaimed it “Godzilla.” It’s a fitting nickname.
  • 2012 Lexus LFA: Lexus took a stab at the supercar market with the clunky and odd LFA. They brought a butterknife to a minigun fight. They built 500 LFA supercars that are somehow coveted right now. They aren’t fast by supercar standards, and they aren’t very much fun to drive. Their transmission can never replicate a shift, so you either get slammed back into your seat, or you don’t notice it shifting at all. There is no in between. That being said, it’s 4.8-liter V10 sounds spectacular, and revs to the heavens. Lexus likely lost money selling each LFA. Building supercars is an expensive, risky business.2012 Lexus LFA
  • 2012 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86: This might just be the best Subaru/Toyota pairing ever. It’s certainly an odd pairing – Toyota and Subaru are competitors, but their collaboration resulted in a really fun car. The Scion FR-S is a bit more loose, as it’s meant more for drifting, whereas the Subaru is a bit tighter, as it’s meant for canyon carving and track duty. They’re really affordable – a well-optioned one comes in about $30,000, and they have a lot to offer: RWD, fuel efficiency, fun-to-drive factor, reliability, standard manual transmission, etc.2012 Scion FR-S

2012 Subaru BRZ2012 Toyota GT86Those are what I think to be more of the best Japanese sports cars ever made. I’d love to hear more of your stories about any of these cars, or which one is your favorite.

The Top Movie/TV Show Cars

Many movies have cars that we love.  Famous cars with famous actors – it goes together.  Le Mans had a Porsche 917 and a Ferrari 512LM with Steve McQueen doing all of the driving in the 917.  It also had a Porsche 911 Carrera S that went for $1.75 Million dollars at auction last year.  The Ronin remake had Robert De Niro, a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, a BMW M5, and a nitrous-huffing Audi S8.  Vanishing Point had Barry Newman, a 440-powered Dodge Challenger R/T Magnum, and a Jaguar E-Type V12 Convertible.  Well, you get the idea.

While I know that last weekend was Oscars weekend, I still thought that the cars from famous movies deserve a proper recognition.  Enjoy my list.  I have also attached videos of the cars in the movies that they were in.  I hope you enjoy the list and the videos!

  1. 1968 Dodge Charger “Bullitt”:  While it’s a shame that I haven’t seen Bullitt yet (one of these days!), I’ve seen the epic car chase scene on YouTube countless times.  I know.  It’s not the same.  The 1968 Dodge Charger from Bullitt is undeniably one of the most iconic cars ever to be used in a movie.  Anybody, I repeat, ANYBODY, can watch the chase scene and then see a 1968 Charger in real life, and say, “I saw a car that looks similar to that one in Bullitt!”  The two cars that really defined the words “muscle car” tore up the streets of San Francisco for real (no CGI, just a couple of sped-up shots).  Both the Ford Mustang GT with the 390 cubic-inch V8 and the Dodge Charger R/T with the 440 cubic-inch V8 needed some modifications for the chase scene.  Ex race-car builder Max Balchowsky modified both cars for film use.  The Highland Green Mustang needed a TON of mods for the chase scene.  The Charger, however, only needed heavy-duty shocks and springs to cope with the jumps.  Both cars used prototype Firestone tires, but it’s possible to see different width tires multiple times on the Charger.  According to Balchowsky, the Charger with it’s big 375-horsepower 440 cubic-inch V8 outgunned the 325-horse 390 cubic-inch V8 Mustang (pun not intended) so much that it required the stunt driver to slow down the car so that McQueen’s ‘Stang could keep up.  Score for Mopar!  While (spoiler alert!) one of the cars met a fiery demise at the end of the movie and was subsequently scrapped, some say that the other Charger is still around…somewhere.  I’d sure like to think so!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Lbs_nYW3-o
  2. 1955 Chevrolet 150 “American Graffiti”:  Arguably one of the most iconic cars for hot rodding, let alone movies, the 1955 Chevrolet 150 from American Graffiti remains the benchmark for modified ’55 Chevy’s.  Three 1955 Chevrolet 150’s were used for the filming of the movie.  Two of said cars were used in 1971’s Two Lane Blacktop.  Transportation supervisor Henry Travers picked the two cars up from the Universal Studios lot and painted them black.  One car was a fiberglass shell, and it was used to film exterior shots and the actors inside the car.  The other car, the stunt car, was used for the climatic drag race crash.  Travers, who drove the car stunt Chevy for the Paradise Road finale couldn’t roll the car as directed by George Lucas – the car had to be heaved onto it’s roof by the crew.  A third, non-running 1955 Chevy was picked up, spray-painted black, and a fake B-pillar was welded on to resemble to other two cars.  It was burned to film the crash’s aftermath.  The burn car was returned to the junkyard – it would have been impossible to get the car in running condition!  Only the main camera car remains today.  It has traded hands a few times and some dubious modifications have been made to it.  In 2012, it was sold privately to a private buyer who plans to restore the car to it’s original American Graffiti appearance.  Prior to the deal, the buyer apparently barely avoided acquiring his own burn car, built by George Barris.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOgqUHk-zDY
  3. 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 “Ronin”:  While the chase scene from Bullitt deserves lots of ink, the multiple chase scenes from the 1998 remake of Ronin make the leaping American stallions chase scene look about as exciting as a segway tour of Los Angeles.  John Frankenheimer, the same speed junkie who directed the 1966 movie Grand Prix, directed Ronin.  He hired a gaggle of stunt drivers, including F1 champion Jean-Pierre Jarier and sports car champion Jean-Claude Lagniez, and let them loose throwing muscular German sedans around Paris, Monaco, and parts of Souther France at opposite lock drift angles and mind-blowing speeds – on closed-off public roads.  An Audi S8 and BMW rightfully grab a lot of attention in the movie, with Frankenheimer cleverly using right-hand-drive cars with fake left-side steering wheels so that the actors including Robert De Niro and Natascha McElhone could “drive” while one of the Frenchmen terrified them just a couple of feet away.  Not to be outdone are the guys from Mercedes-Benz who sent a 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, arguably the first German muscle car.  Robert De Niro “drives” for a while, while French actor Jean Reno actually drove.  The absolute mayhem begins with a Rockford pulled off in the Benz, and then De Niro and Reno chase down the bad boys who happen to be driving a Peugeot 406.  The Peugeot and and Benz hurtle through the French countryside at speeds well over 100 mph, and then De Niro stands up in the sunroof and blows the 406 to smithereens.  Post-explosion, the 450SEL 6.9 hurtles into the seaside village of Villefranche-sur-Mer, an outskirt of Monaco, where a good half of the movie was filmed, where it hurtles through tiny city streets trashing market stalls and cafe tables in search of whatever is locked inside of that mysterious locked case everybody wants.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMaG5WAmHvY
  4. 1980 Lamborghini Countach “The Cannonball Run”:  If you can, keep your eyes ON the car, not IN the car!  It sounds easy, but Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau are inside.  When Hal Needham and Brock Yates (arguably one of the most iconic auto journalists ever) thought up the plot for The Cannonball Run, a highly fictionalized version of the illegal cross-country Cannonball Run races of the 1970s, they knew that only one car could keep a teenager’s eyes off of Buckman and Barbeau – a 1980 Lamborghini Countach.  The entire opening sequence of the movie focuses entirely on the Countach.  The V12 shrieks up and down through the gearbox, and the two ladies stopping just long enough paint an “X” across a 55 mph speed limit sign before the car screams off onto the American prairie highway again.  The car taunts a police cruiser by coming up extremely close in the rear view mirror, pulling alongside, and then disappearing into the horizon.  No wonder this movie, which Yates himself calls “a pretty lousy picture!” grossed more than $72 million dollars – in the U.S. alone!  Of course, Burt Reynolds and Victor Prinzim are the official stars of the movie with their fake ambulance, but don’t tell that to any teenage boy who saw the movie in the 1980’s.  After filming, the car was used by Hawaiian Tropic as a promotional vehicle for 28 years.  Then, a private collector in Florida bought the car in 2009, and restored the car to factory condition.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh9L6LrpmTQ
  5. 1970 Porsche 911S “Le Mans”:  Most of Le Mans focuses on a frenzy of screaming prototypes, howling sports cars, furious air wrenches, and cheering crowds of adoring fans.  Not for the opening sequence, though.  Before reaching the Le Mans circuit, McQueen’s character, troubled racer Michael Delaney, gently pushes his 911S across the French countryside and a quiet village.  Soon, he will strap into a howling Porsche 917 for 24 hours of 240+ mph battle against a Ferrari 512LM.  But, for now, it’s just the man and his steed.  The Slate Gray 911S stands out in it’s timeless, understated elegance.  Kind of like McQueen himself.  It’s no wonder that he took the machine back with him to California to join his rapidly growing sports car and motorcycle collection.  Since he owned a nearly identical 1969 model, the 1970 911S was soon sold to a Los Angeles-based attorney who kept the car hidden away for the better part of 30 years.  The car changed hands two more times before going up for auction at RM Auctions Monterey, where it fetched a tidy $1.375 Million dollars, the most EVER paid for a 911 at auction.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JlyQsWXrqA
  6. 1966 Jaguar XKE V12 Convertible “Vanishing Point”:  Most people my age today probably wouldn’t understand the tagline from Vanishing Point: “Tighten your seatbelt.  You never had a trip like this before.”  But in 1971, the phrase fell on plenty of knowing ears and cars.  Enter Barry Newman as Kowalski, Congressional Medal of Honor Winner, ex-cop, ex-istentialist, as well as ex-race-driver.  His mission is the stuff of any Hollywood movie legend, or any car buff’s legend – drive the car from Denver to San Francisco in record time.  Hollywood being Hollywood, Kowalski encounters everything from rattlesnakes to sun-hardened old-timers, pre-“Bette Davis Eyes” Kim Carnes music, and deranged religious prophets.  But, his most memorable meeting was against a goggles-wearing, giggling desert rat hell-bent on some hoonage in his Jaguar XK-E V12 Convertible.  Said Jag driver literally begs for it – he even bangs his car into the Challenger to get Kowalski’s attention.  Since this is Hollywood, Kowalski takes the bait.  Big time.  It’s wire rims against mag wheels, Dover Sole versus Alaska Salmon, tea cakes versus beefcake.  A one-lane bridge looms ahead.  Kowalski gives the big 440 full throttle, fender swipes the Jag, and the Jag flies off the road in a splendid, um, horrifying fashion.  After several barrel rolls and a gigantic drop, the Jag ends up on it’s side in a mud-caked riverbed.  Since the driver of the Jag was a stunt driver, he’s OK.  Kowalski gives him a quick check, and is back on his way.  I can’t say the same for the Jag – it ended up as a total write-off.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBTup5WH0a0
  7. 1963 Apollo 3500 GT Thorndyke Special “The Love Bug”:  When was the last time you saw The Love Bug?  It’s a cute movie, and the support vehicles are, well, spectacular.  In any given racing scene, cute little Herbie the Love Bug is surrounded by all sorts of cars you’d expect to see at a period SCCA road race, from Triumph TR6’s to Shelby Cobra’s to MG TC’s.  The most memorable supporting vehicle is the black and yellow car driven by that crook Peter Thorndyke in the final El Dorado race.  Thorndyke drives everything from a Jaguar E-Type to a Ferrari 250GT (a replica car that long ago disappeared) Tour de France on his way to campaigning the Thorndyke Special.  The Thorndyke Special is, for all of it’s Italian looks, is an Apollo 3500GT.  It may have Italian styling, but it was made in Oakland California.  The Apollo cars started life in Italy, where the bodies and chassis’ were made by Intermeccanica.  They would then be shipped to Oakland, where the engines and transmissions would be installed.  Most of the engines were 350 cubic-inch Buick V8’s mated to either a Muncie M-22 “Rock Crusher” transmission or a Buick three-speed automatic.  42 cars were built between 1962 and 1964, when the company ran out of money and closed.  Max Balchowsky specifically modified two cars for the movie with their well-known paint scheme.  At least one car still exists today, with the restoration in Toronto, Canada started many years ago.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCmUQo2r33g
  8. 1969 Lamborghini Muira “The Italian Job (1969)”:  For us car lovers, the opening scene of the 1969 The Italian Job starring legendary British actor Michael Caine is beautiful and haunting.  An orange 1969 Lamborghini Muira P400 is making its way through the beautiful Swiss Alps with the actor Rossano Brazzi behind the wheel, cigarette dangling like they are in commercials.  He’s wearing driving gloves, a perfect suit, and designer sunglasses.  Matt Monro crooning “On Days Like These” accompanies the scream of the 3.9-liter V12 of the Muira.  What could go wrong?  Everything, as the Muira enters the tunnel at high speed, and comes out crumpled in the bucket of an earth mover at the other end.  A roadblock set up by the bad guys takes the blame.  And, the once-raging Muira is dropped over 100 feet into a river.  Was the orange Lambo actually destroyed?  Yes and no.  Two Muira’s were used for the scene.  The running and driving one was not wrecked, as it was a press car for Lamborghini; that honor goes to a crash-damaged frame of a Muira with new bodywork and no engine.  Rumor has it that when the crew came down to the river the next morning, not a single piece of the wrecked Muira was to be found.  Creepy.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQIRbV_noi8
  9. 1964.5 Ford Mustang GT Convertible “Goldfinger”:  While the Aston Martin DB5 seems to get all of the credit (rightfully so – it’s AWESOME!), the first Ford Mustang ever in a movie co-starred with the Brit.  Tilly Masterson’s gold 1964.5 Ford Mustang GT Convertible was a preproduction model, and was run off of a Swiss mountain after Bond’s tire slicing hubcap sticks out.  Ford REALLY wanted the Mustang to be part of Goldfinger, and had originally specified for a fastback to be used in the film.  Unfortunately, the fastback Mustang would start production too late in 1964 for filming purposes.  Ultimately, the Goldfinger Mustang fastback was built with special gold metallic paint, and it featured a roof panel with 007-inspired switches.  It was used as a promotional vehicle for both Bond and Ford for many years, and it still survives in private ownership.  As for the Mustang GT Convertible used in the film, it is believed but unknown by either Ford or anybody that it was sold after the film and repainted and currently with somebody.  Who that somebody is beats Ford and everybody else.  I’d sure like to know.  Other Ford vehicles were used in Goldfinger:  A 1957 Ford Thunderbird was used by Secret Service agents, a 1964 Lincoln Continental was driven to the junkyard and crushed by Oddjob, Goldfinger’s lethal assistant, and a 1964 Ford Ranchero was used for Oddjob to drive away from the junkyard with the crushed Continental in the bed.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLuNstLjP1c
  10. 1967 Ford Mustang GT500 “Gone in 60 Seconds”:  The menacing-looking 1967 silver-grey Ford Mustang GT500 from the 2005 remake of Gone in 60 Seconds is a 1967 Ford Mustang GT Fastback.  It has body panels and GT500 badges to make it look like a GT500.  It had a hopped-up 390 cubic-inch V8 made up to perform and sound like the 428 cubic inch Cobra Jet V8 found in the GT500.  Three cars were made for filming, and one was scrapped.  The other two survive in private ownership.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMv-X0tG2KQ